I was a reporter for almost a decade. I fell into the profession almost by fate, but I also felt, off and on, that the exact place I’d landed within the profession wasn’t for me. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have much preferred writing in-depth investigative pieces or long-form profiles, so perhaps you’ll see more of that in Conjure.
As a child, I produced my own neighborhood newsletter on a typewriter that my mom helped me create at Kinko’s and I distributed to our friends on our street. I still have a copy. I also used to write in journals and cherished paper, notebooks, you know the usual for writers. But somehow in high school I forgot I was a writer. Instead, I signed up for international business as a major in college, because I thought it would be a good way to further expand my Spanish language skills.
I hated my college major. Accounting is boring (sorry) and I grew bored with Spanish classes over time. I’d taken them since I was 11 and by the age of 20 or so I needed a break. I took them because I felt I HAD to at that point, not because I wanted to. So, to help myself out while I was in college I started taking random electives to see what I actually enjoyed. I took a piano class. I took a physical geography class I loved. Maybe I’d be a scientist. Then I took a news writing class where we were tasked to write a long-form “investigative” piece about the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas.
It was as if the stars above shone down from heaven and the oceans parted. I’d found my bliss. You could make money doing this?
I changed my major to journalism and finished college only one semester behind my prescribed schedule. (You know, the one society prescribes. But more on that in another story.)
After college I landed a job with a weekly business journal as a researcher who compiled industry lists, the back-of-issue articles and occasionally wrote stories for the main book. I also helped proof the entire rag before we went to press each week. That gig turned into a full-time reporter position at a neighborhood weekly newspaper, which turned into a dual writing position for the same business weekly I’d started out with and the business section of the city’s main daily newspaper. That’s summing up more than nine years in a nutshell, but that’s the gist.
Every time I wanted to move positions, there was a reason. The first was because I was bored and wanted to be a full-time reporter. The second was because I wanted to work with more responsible people. Some of my co-workers at that paper couldn’t get a story in on deadline to save their lives. I wanted to work with pros, and I wanted more in general by that point in my life. The third and last time I wanted to change reporting positions resulted in me leaving journalism altogether, but it’s a bit more complicated.
I like business reporting well enough and had found my niche within the medium. But there was no upward mobility for me where I was. Nowhere to go, no opportunity. I felt like it was a boy’s club I’d never be fully asked to join, even though I’d worked for the company for nine years. My male counterparts were making much more than I was, even receiving bonuses, while I was told there was a freeze on pay raises. At this point in my life, I was in a long-term relationship supporting myself in my early thirties and my mother had died. I’d taken over caring for my father, who’d developed health issues as a result of smoking since the age of 14. A chance for opportunity was something I needed to establish for myself.
But leaving the journalism world was a scary thought. I felt like I’d be a sellout going into public relations. I felt as if I’d never be able to write again. Of course, none of that is true, but that’s how I felt. I struggled with this for a long time. I applied for a couple random jobs halfheartedly, but nothing came about.
I needed advice, so I turned to one of my mentors, then another. I’ll never forget my friend, a former news reporter and producer, telling me to jump. She’s a powerhouse in the PR world, and told me I’d have way more opportunity if I left journalism. And I’d probably be happier. You know what? She was right.
I left my job as a reporter for a great opportunity in public relations six years ago. Since then I’ve grown professionally leaps and bounds and had the chance to work with some of the most talented people in my state. It’s a decision that, once I left reporting, I haven’t regretted for a second. My friend was right. I’ve had more opportunity, learned SO much more than I ever would have as a reporter, and have just generally been happier.
And as for that selling out thing? You set your own boundaries as a human being. I choose not to do things that I feel are unethical or otherwise aren’t the way I feel things should be done. It’s up to you to uphold your standards, regardless of your profession.
If you’re thinking of switching careers but are scared, I say try. You’ll never know if you don’t. In most cases you can return to your former career. In fact, I have another good friend you has done this because his journalism-PR career change wasn’t for him. But for me, it was the best career choice I ever made.
Remember that fear I had about not getting to write? You’re reading this right now, aren’t you? You can create your own path in life. If you want to write, you will. I hope this story helps if you’re considering a career change from journalism to public relations, or even in another industry. Leaving journalism wasn’t the end of the world for me. Instead, it opened up a world I wouldn’t have known existed.